Article — September 9, 2017 — learning, language, trust, organization
Cultures learn by celebrating.
I only understood that this year, following research into Dragon Dreaming, a way of working that asserts 25% of the time in any project should be devoted to “celebrating”.
The dragons in Dragon Dreaming are the troubles, fears and obstacles that lie outside our comfort zone. It’s a great idea to celebrate our encounters with dragons. (source) What I found is that the practitioners of Dragon Dreaming were using the word “celebrating” a little differently than I had. They didn’t mean a lot of cheering and fanfare, consumption and back-patting. They didn’t mean an event aimed toward making the participants feel good.
I understood them to mean something closer to what I discovered in the etymology of the word “celebration” itself, which can be traced back to an adjective in Latin, “celeber”, meaning numerous, populous, or honored by a great assembly.
The more robust the culture, the more rich and complex the mythology it carries, and the more various and elaborate the celebrations it conducts to reinforce and develop that mythology. (source) To celebrate is to bring the attention of numerous people together on what happened. It’s the act of drawing the past into the present, sharing our experiences. We develop a common memory, a common interpretation of events; we build the story of our lives.
Without celebration, we feel small, and life seems meaningless. We need to know the events in the bigger picture, to make sense of ourselves. We need to look at the whole world to learn who we are as individuals. In the process, we each gain some of the wisdom that all of us worked for.
What to celebrate? It depends. How? It depends. When? Always. (source) The discipline of celebration consists of knowing what and how to celebrate.
There’s no way to celebrate everything that happens. We need to identify specific events, and our selection makes a tremendous difference. It’s a mistake to think only successes should be celebrated; what’s important is to choose events that are highly meaningful for the participants of the celebration, and failures are as likely to be meaningful as successes.
Everything is temporary. Celebrating when things end helps new things to begin. (source) A great celebrator has no fear of bringing depressing or upsetting facts to light, knowing that a well-performed celebration is uplifting no matter what the content of it is. Nor does a great celebrator try to cover up the bitterness of events with artificial sweetness. Like great cooks, they bring out the natural sublimity of what they work with. They emphasize and complement, rather than suppress or oppose.
There are as many ways to celebrate as there are ways to make art. I’m a storyteller; that’s the artform I know best, so it’s the first tool I reach for when I hope to make a great celebration.
Twenty-eight, like most numbers, is interesting. It’s the fourth hexagonal number, and it’s the product of four and seven, which should be enough to raise the eyebrows of any numerologist. It’s certainly worth celebrating. (source) For example, last month I celebrated my 28th birthday. I never wanted to do that, before; it was the first time I regarded my birthday as something to celebrate, rather than something to scrupulously hide from public attention.
I told the story of my life, beginning last winter, with the first post of this blog and the walk with that one guy that I want to form a household with.
My intention was to weave together the various images of myself, held by me and others, into a more complete sense of who I am. When who I am is a story held in common, we all gain the ability to check whether my actions are consistent with that story or not.
That way, I become reliable: either reliably trustworthy, or reliably untrustworthy, depending on where my strengths and weaknesses are. Where I’m trustworthy, people can depend on my support, and where I’m not, celebrating my weaknesses creates a common understanding of where I fall short – which is a great environment for me to learn in, if I’m engaged in improving myself.
Of course, if you have a great culture of accountability, inviting the accountants to the celebration can make it far better. (source) The same principle applies to a celebration of anything: bringing our individual past experiences to common consciousness is a powerful way for any group, community or organization to improve. The magic works immediately, even without any structure of accountability to ensure that the points to improve are really followed up on.
In PDCA, it’s called the “check phase”. In Scrum, it’s called a “review” or “retrospective”. In the Toyota Way, it’s called “hansei”. I prefer to call it “celebration”; that name makes the heart of it more obvious to me. (source) That makes celebration an important element in kaizen culture, and an invaluable tool in forming a cooperative.
Imagine working in a culture where judgement, blame, criticism and punishment simply do not exist: where your value as a living being is seen and celebrated regardless of what you do, while at the same time your words and actions are evaluated with unflinching objectivity, according to clear standards that we all know, that we all agree on, and that are always changing – because as we learn we gain a better understanding of what we care about, what is good, what is meaningful, what is important, what we are here to do.
A culture where each small calamity and each little triumph that you experience in your daily life, from your first breath to your last, is given a place on the world’s stage, to be celebrated, to be known and learned from, to be recognized for what it is: a step of evolution in the dance of a living cosmos.
Sometimes we are models of excellence. Other times, we blunder. Whatever we do, we learn, and we gain something to contribute to the next attempt.